Refuge and resource: caring for a campus oasis

Refuge and resource: Caring for a campus oasis

Durfee conservatory a horticultural haven

January 28, 2019

Among the campus’ many gems, Durfee conservatory stands out—particularly in freezing weather—as a resource not only for horticultural study, but for renewal and reflection among its beautiful and unusual plant specimens. The UMass journalism department’s student-produced publication Amherst Wire brings this corner of campus into its focus with an article and photos featuring long-time conservatory manager Michael Formosi ‘88. 

From Durfee Conservatory: UMass’ historic hidden oasis:

Some exotic plants featured in the conservatory include a Theobroma cacao — often referred to simply as a chocolate tree, a Bird of Paradise plant and a collection of historic camellia trees from the original conservatory. The Collections House holds the Mimosa pudica, also known as the “sensitive plant” because its leaves fold in when touched. 

Michael Formosi, the conservatory’s manager for the past 11 years, keeps it alive and well. He runs the conservatory from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday, watering plants and maintaining climate control. His office sits in the corner of the Succulent House, with a desk adorned with a computer, papers and a climate monitor keeping track of each room. 

Michael Formosi

Formosi graduated from UMass’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture in 1988 with a degree in horticulture. He takes pride in his work and pays special attention to detail, ensuring that the climate of each room is carefully controlled. With plants from all around the globe, focus is perhaps the most important skill to creating an environment in which all plants can thrive. 

“There is always something to do,” Formosi said. 

For instance, the Tropical House must maintain a humidity level of about 71 percent, simulating the conditions that these plants are native to. If the humidity drops below this threshold, plants will start to show signs of stress, causing their leaves to turn brown. A watchful eye is paramount to assure that these plants survive in a New England environment. 

Orchid closeup, Durfee conservatory

Top image: Joey Lorant/Amherst Wire

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